On Tuesday, Nov. 1, Hala Jadid al Kash, president of Souriyat sin Fronteras (Syrian Women Without Borders), came to St. Olaf to deliver a lecture entitled “The Syrian Crisis: The Price of Freedom.” The crowd of students, faculty and Northfield community members engaged in a thoughtful dialogue led by al Kash, who used her personal experience and knowledge to answer difficult questions surrounding the Syrian Revolution, such as the refugee crisis and the tense relationship between the United States and Russia.
The lecture began with a brief overview of the Syrian Revolution, offering attendees a sense of the turmoil Syrians have faced over the past four years. A revolution that began with peaceful protesters against the Assad regime has now spiraled into a complicated affair, with international powers backing the four different fronts: the revolutionaries, Assad’s regime, ISIS and the Kurds.
Throughout the lecture, al Kash stressed the importance of using the word “revolution” to describe the events that have unfolded in Syria. She argued that the word reminds people of the root of the crisis: a peaceful protest that was violently suppressed by the Assad regime. When a student asked her why the Arab Spring Revolution was successful in countries such as Tunisia or Egypt, al Kash explained that prior to 2012 there had been no opposition in Syria.
“The people in Syria lived under a dictatorship for 45 years, but there was no media coverage, there was no opposition,” al Kash said. “The world thought we were okay because we had food and we had shelter.”
Al Kash has used her voice to raise awareness about the humanitarian issue in Syria, where 12.2 million civilians are currently in need of assistance. Many civilians have been caught in the midst of the violence, becoming targets of chemical warfare and bombings. However, despite the rampant death and destruction, the amount of media coverage has been limited. Al Kash expressed her concerns over this, citing the need for better and more accurate media coverage of the current situation.
“Many news reports talk about ISIS now because of the attacks here and [in] Europe, but they often forget about Assad’s regime and the people he has killed,” she said.
Syrian Women Without Borders has been an integral source of aid in the Syrian crisis. A recovery home was built in Jordan to help rehabilitate Syrian refugees and provide food, water and shelter. As president of the organization, al Kash spent two years working in refugee camps, but was forced to stop after the government began targeting her family in Syria.
“I have found other ways to help, through educating people about the revolution,” she said. This includes holding conferences about the Syrian crisis in her current residence of Spain and giving lectures to “spread the voice.”
“If you don’t want to take any political side, just take the humanitarian side,” al Kash said. The Syrian Revolution has become more politicized than ever, with the ongoing refugee crisis and tensions between different international powers. However, al Kash urged listeners to go beyond the complicated politics and to look at the humanitarian crisis instead.
“Syrian lives are human lives too. Millions of innocent lives have been affected by the violence…The schools and hospitals have been bombed, but there is no reason to target them,” al Kash said. “What the Syrian people want now is just peace and safety. We want the beautiful Syria that we used to know.”
During the question and answer session of the lecture, listeners asked a variety of questions.
“Her credibility as a speaker on the Syrian Revolution [because of her] personal experiences, and how she’s president of the organization was intriguing,” said Avery Prine ’20, who attended the lecture.
Al Kash also helped students redefine the image of a refugee and of the Syrian crisis in general.
“The most meaningful thing I learned was about the diversity of the people who are displaced,” Prine said. “It’s not just an impoverished population or people from a certain political affiliation … it’s everyone.”